Virginia is the first state in the country to secure a wind energy research lease to build and operate turbines in federal waters, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Tuesday.
The agreement with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will enable Dominion Virginia Power to move forward with its plans to erect a pair of 6-megawatt test turbines on the Outer Continental Shelf, about 24 nautical miles east of the Virginia Beach shoreline.
The turbines are intended as a demonstration project that, if successful, could mean Dominion will develop an adjacent 113,000-acre Wind Energy Area to generate enough electricity to power 700,000 homes.
“The data collected under this research lease will help us understand the wind potential, weather and other conditions relevant to standing up wind power generation offshore Virginia,” BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper said in a statement.
The governor has often said he wants to make Virginia a hub of offshore wind power as part of an all-of-the-above approach to energy production.
“With this research lease,” McAuliffe said, “Virginia is positioned to be the first state to build wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean and take the next step toward the clean energy economy we need to create jobs and lower energy costs now and into the future.”
Environmentalists have long approved of McAuliffe’s support for wind energy and, following the announcement, said they were “thrilled” with the progress.
“This is another step forward for the development of an offshore wind industry in Virginia,” said Sarah Bucci, spokeswoman for Environment Virginia. “This lease will help ensure that Virginia can realize the tremendous potential of our coast to produce clean, pollution-free offshore wind energy.”
Glen Besa, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, urged McAuliffe to press Dominion to fully develop the Wind Energy Area.
“Full-scale development of offshore wind can create thousands of clean energy jobs and address climate change while displacing Dominion’s plans for new gas power plants and an unwise investment in a new nuclear reactor at North Anna,” Besa said.
Attorney General Mark Herring said the deal will position Virginia as a national leader in renewable energy development.
“As we compete for the jobs of the 21st century and work to mitigate the effects of climate change on vulnerable areas, including Hampton Roads,” Herring said in statement, “a groundbreaking clean energy project like this shows that Virginia is ready, willing and able to lead.”
The Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium estimates that a commercial wind farm, if fully developed, could create between 9,700 and 11,600 career jobs within 20 years.
Dominion won a lease-sale bid for the Wind Energy Area in 2012, paying $1.6 million for the right to explore the site’s potential for offshore wind energy. But first Dominion plans to install and operate the two test turbines just west of the Wind Energy Area, along with support facilities and cabling to shore. It’s doing so as a partner in the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project, or VOWTAP.
The test turbines will be placed on the site Virginia is now leasing from BOEM. The state will sub-lease that site to Dominion.
The demonstration project is expected to cost about $250 million, according to the governor’s office. Last May, Dominion received a $47 million competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help fund the project, on top of another $4 million federal grant in 2012.
The two test turbines could be in place by 2017, generating enough electricity to power about 3,000 homes. Dominion says if it determines it’s cost-effective to do so, it will then develop the Wind Energy Area.
Dominion’s industry and research partners in VOWTAP include Newport News Shipbuilding, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Alstom Power Inc. (to supply the turbines), the KBR engineering and construction firm, substructure designer Keystone Engineering, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute.
Unlike many European countries, the U.S. has no commercial offshore wind farms. But two projects have been in development for several years off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
In Massachusetts, the Cape Wind Project in Nantucket Sound was proposed by a private developer as the first offshore wind energy project in U.S. coastal waters. But recently the project suffered serious setbacks in financing and power purchase agreements, raising questions about its future.
The Deepwater Wind project off Rhode Island is touted as the first offshore wind farm in the country, albeit in state waters. The project would build five wind turbines and generate 30 megawatts of power. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer, and turbines are expected to begin operating by the end of 2016.
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